In more ways than one, higher education in the Philippines is like a patient whose grotesque and misshapen features bespeak of the botched ministrations of different cosmetic surgeons who had different conceptions of the beautiful and about how to reach an ideal over which there is no agreement! From one perspective, it has been not just a roller-coaster but an insane ride from one experiment to the other—the latest being outcomes-based education and vertical typology. So when I propose a re-invention of higher education, I am proposing less, not more regulation; I am advancing the cause of greater, not less, institutional autonomy.
It is not a matter of fortuity that when the 1987 Constitution erected the framework for the regulatory authority of the state over education, it etched the felicitous phrase “reasonable regulation” and shunned the unlikeable word “control.” The State reasonably regulates education, particularly higher education and never controls it. The Constitutional intent is clear—as it is clear in respect to its rejection of dynasties, but there are many ways of making a constitutional provision effete. The four-fold entailment of academic freedom—what to teach, who to teach, who may teach, how to teach—is certainly known and repeated ad nauseam, but in the face of aggressive if not overreaching government regulation and an acquiescent Philippine academia, all that academic freedom should mean has, in Collingwood’s very apt summation, “died the death of a hundred qualifications.” What more is left of the freedom to determine what to teach when CMOs lay down the model curricula of different programs, leaving only the morsels of “electives” to the exercise of an institution’s discretion? And what can the freedom to determine who should teach possibly mean when, once more, the constantly intrusive CMOs, the Department of Labor and Employment (for private HEIs) and the Civil Service Commission (for government or state institutions) require that appointments receive their seal of approval?
No matter that later philosophers would fault Descartes on a number of grounds, the heuristic device of universal methodic doubt always serves philosophy in good stead—and it might just well be the most promising way to re-invent higher education. In this case, the doubt should be directed at the assumption that government knows best how education should go, with the result that the creativity, inventiveness and bold experimentation of educators who, when left to themselves, would be able to offer the nation richer fare than the bland regulation diet to which we are now confined are all but smothered! Reinvented, regulatory agencies such as CHED became enablers and “impeders of impeders”—rather than impedances— to the boldness of innovation to which college and university executives should be given free rein.
In other jurisdictions, there have been successful experiments at allowing students to structure their own programs of study. That, to my mind, is to be preferred to regimenting the courses of students and virtually herding them into classes that they loathe or worse still, that leave them detesting higher education. After all, while education ought to be able to meet the demands of the job market, education, more fundamentally, should meet the demand of human persons that they live fulfilled lives.
When the University of the Philippines re-wrote its charter, it gave the nation what, to me, is the ideal model of a higher education institute, especially one that exists at the fiat of the State. For UP, autonomy is a really powerful word, and the real authority that governs the university is its own Board of Regents. That is as it should be, and I do not think that such an organization is reserved only for UP. In fact, the unquestioned excellence of the country’s premier state university can be attributed, I can assert with little fear of contradiction, to the fact that its professors have been free to teach what they wish to teach in the manner they deem fit, and that the institution has been free to invent, re-structure, configure and re-configure courses and programs of study.
The specter of diploma mills and sub-standard HEIs has always been used as the justification for tighter regulation. That, to me, is a bad argument, for it overlooks the fact that when all is said and done, the work force, industry, employers, stakeholders and the public will be the ultimate judges of the excellence or the decadence of any institution. I am not referring only to performance in licensure examinations (not even the Bar) that are tools of regimented instruction. I refer rather to the fact that the employers, stakeholders and the public will recognize which higher education institutions are worthy of respect and those that invite repudiation, if not spite.
Undeniably, this places a tremendous responsibility on university heads and executives—as it should be. The fact that one is the son or the daughter of one who founded a school is no guarantee that one is fit to lead an institution. A non-academic has no business leading a community of academics, and never should academic policy be formulated and determined by business interests, which is not to say that business and financial concerns are irrelevant to higher education. It is interesting that while our regulatory agencies put their hands into the minutiae of institutional operations—scheduling of classes, number of units, subjects to be taken, qualifications of teachers—the selection, choice, election or appointment of university heads and institutions are left to the vagaries of business or family interests if not political posturing and patronage.
No, re-invention does not mean more regulation. It means less regulation. This will not make CHED any less relevant. It will become supremely relevant as the enabler of the creativity, innovative spirit, intelligence and executive deportment that should be found in every university and college head and executive!